What Car? says...
The original Kia Niro might not have looked particularly revolutionary – you might even argue that it looked a little humdrum – but it was one of the first SUVs to democratise electric power.
The Niro offered buyers a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and a pure electric car option, badged the e-Niro. That gave people the opportunity to own a family SUV with low – or even zero – emissions, which in turn meant lower fuel bills, the ability to run on electric power alone and, for company car drivers, a low tax rate.
Unsurprisingly, this approach proved rather popular and it didn’t take long for other manufacturers to do the same as Kia.
You can now get a Peugeot 3008 or Vauxhall Mokka with three different power sources. When it comes to pure electric power, there’s no doubt that the Kia EV6 – a dedicated electric vehicle – stole some of its smaller sibling’s thunder by offering a longer range and plusher interior (not to mention being named What Car?'s 2022 Car of the Year).
For this second generation Niro, Kia has redesigned the pioneering SUV “from the ground up” in order to meet growing competition. It sits on new underpinnings and promises improved interior space and cutting-edge tech. It also features design details borrowed from the EV6 and the Kia Sportage.
As you’d expect from any modern self-respecting family SUV, the interior is stuffed with sustainably-sourced materials. The headlining, for example, is made of recycled wallpaper and the seats are trimmed with cloth derived from eucalyptus leaves.
Like the first-generation Niro, it's available as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and an electric car – now badged the Niro EV, but the PHEV and electric versions now have longer ranges. Over the next few pages, we’ll take you through the impact of these changes, while also investigating how the Niro compares with rivals.
We'll be concentrating on hybrid and PHEV versions here – you can read about the fully electric version in our review of the Kia Niro EV.
Don’t forget, once you’ve decided which new car is right for you, head to our free What Car? New Car Deals service to see how much you can save on a Niro and hundreds of other cars. It has lots of the best new family SUV deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
The Kia Niro Hybrid and Niro Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) use the same 1.6-litre petrol engine and six-speed automatic gearbox, but the PHEV benefits from a more powerful electric motor. That gives it a combined output (when the petrol engine and electric motor are working together) of 180bhp, against the 139bhp of the regular hybrid.
The Niro Hybrid feels quick enough for everyday driving, but when you need a bit more kick for joining a motorway or overtaking, it builds speed in a rather leisurely manner. It certainly doesn’t feel quicker than its official 0-60mph time of 10.4sec suggests.
Switching from the default Eco drive mode to Sport sharpens up the response of the accelerator pedal to help build up speed sooner, but the automatic gearbox still hinders progress by taking a while before changing down a gear. If performance is key for you, you’d be better off with quicker conventionally powered rivals, such as the Audi Q3 40 TFSI or Skoda Karoq 1.5 TSI 150.
The PHEV performs a little better, and thanks to its more powerful electric motor, overtaking and getting up to motorway speeds is a little easier. In everyday driving, though, there’s otherwise very little difference – and that's reflected in the marginally quicker 0-60mph time of 9.4sec.
Performance is again leisurely when driving in pure electric mode and you don’t get the instantaneous shove when setting off from stationary as you would with some pure electric cars. You’ll still have little trouble keeping up with low-speed traffic, and the petrol engine will kick in to lend a hand if needed when it’s set to EV mode.
The PHEV also has a larger 11.1kWh battery (the Niro Hybrid has a small 1.32kWh lithium-ion unit), which gives it an official electric-only range of up to 38 miles when fully charged. That beats the 31 miles of the more expensive Audi Q3 TFSIe and falls just short of the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid's 39-mile figure. In real-world driving, we'd expect the range to be closer to 30 miles.
The Niro Hybrid can only drive in electric mode at low speeds for short distances (for example, in start-stop traffic or when parking). To help maximise the time you’re running on electric power, the Niro’s sat-nav system can recognise low-emission zones and will save its battery until you reach these areas on your journey.
How about the Niro’s handling? Well, for a family SUV, the Niro has plenty of grip, a predictable handling balance and progressive, naturally weighted steering. When you increase the pace, there's a fair amount of body lean, making the Niro feel a little lethargic when changing direction quickly.
The PHEV’s firmer suspension set-up and slightly sharper steering helps it feel a little more precise when threading down narrow country lanes, but keener drivers will still prefer the more alert and responsive Seat Ateca.
As with most hybrid cars, the Niro’s regenerative braking system recovers energy that would ordinarily be lost during braking, harnessing it to top up the battery. The settings range from Off to Level 3, and can be controlled using paddles behind the steering wheel when you’re in Eco mode (in Sport the paddles change gear). Even in its maximum setting, the regen effect is not strong enough to create a true one-pedal driving style, but it is effective enough that you rarely have to touch the brakes on a country road.
The ride, meanwhile, is generally comfortable. The suspension does a fine job over speed bumps around town and manages the effects of uneven motorways and A-roads really well. Harsher crevices, such as deep potholes, can send a bit of a shudder through the interior, though. For maximum comfort, head for 2 trim models with the smaller 16in wheels.
The PHEV model is firmer than the HEV and struggles to settle down sometimes, but the ride never becomes harsh. The flipside is that the car manages to stay level over undulating roads better than the Hybrid.
The Niro is quiet when running on electric power alone, and the engine only becomes vocal when pushed hard. The engine note isn’t particularly pleasant but it's isolated enough from the interior to remain hushed. The rest of the time it fades into the background, sending virtually no vibration through the controls.
As you pull away, the transition from electric to petrol power is occasionally hesitant, but once you’re on the move, the power sources swap around impressively smoothly. You notice more wind and road noise at higher speeds than in the Karoq, but it’s nothing that will get too grating on a long trip.
The interior layout, fit and finish
The Niro’s interior closely mirrors that of the electric Kia EV6 – and that’s no bad thing. There are soft, tactile materials gracing the areas you touch most frequently, and plenty of gloss-black and chrome details to lift the impression of quality.
The steering wheel is in faux-leather, and while there are some cheaper-looking harder plastics lurking in areas lower down, most of them have a textured finish. Lower-spec 2 models have fewer trim finishers and look a little cheaper, but all Niros feel sturdy and well put together.
All versions of the Niro get a height-adjustable driver’s seat, and if you step up to 3 trim, you get eight-way electric seat adjustment and variable lumbar support. That said, even if your budget only allows for 2 trim, the front seats provide plenty of side bolstering and are firm enough for longer journeys. All models of the Niro are supremely comfortable after an extended session behind the wheel, although a longer-legged colleague noticed that the adjustment for the steering wheel is a little limited fore and aft.
Visibility is good all round, and while the rear corner pillars are quite thick, the windows are large enough to give you a decent view over your shoulder. For extra confidence when manoeuvring, all Niros give you a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors. Front parking sensors are standard on 3 trim models and above.
With 4 trim, you also get a head-up display and two 10.3in screens for the infotainment and digital dash, arranged in a curved panel (entry-level models get a smaller 8in main screen and a 4.2in TFT instrument cluster). The central screen is positioned conveniently high up on the middle of the dashboard, making it easy to see.
The infotainment screen has a relatively intuitive operating system and sharp graphics, so it's not too distracting to use while you're driving. Adjusting the interior temperature or volume for the stereo is easy enough thanks to rotary knobs on the dashboard, but the touch panel that alternates between these functions can be a little fiddly at first.
All trims get Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, and 3 models and above get wireless phone-charging. The standard stereo is replaced with an uprated Harman Kardon system if you go for 4 trim.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The Kia Niro compares well with its family SUV rivals, giving anyone over six feet tall and sitting in the rear a good amount of head and leg room, even if they’re sat behind someone of a similar height.
There’s a generous amount of foot space under the front seats, while the centre hump in front of the middle passenger is small and doesn't steal too much legroom. The electric sunroof that comes as standard on 4 trim cars doesn't reduce headroom too much.
Storage space up front includes door pockets that are a decent size and two drink holders in the centre console, but the storage cubby under the central arm rest is smaller than in some rivals. Rear-seat passengers get a map pocket on the back of the front seats, a pair of cupholders on the fold-down centre armrest and a small storage area on the door for a drinks bottle.
All Niros get a boot that’s uniform in shape and has a height-adjustable floor as standard, as well as a foldable parcel shelf that takes up very little space when not in use. Those features allow you to make the best use of the space on offer – space that we’d describe as acceptable rather than cavernous.
The Hybrid’s boot, for example, offers up 451 litres of capacity. That’s more than you’ll find in the Honda HR-V, Lexus UX and Toyota C-HR but less than you get in the larger Peugeot 3008 and Skoda Karoq. The PHEV’s boot is quite a bit smaller at 348 litres, but it should still be big enough for a weekly shop or a family weekend away.
In terms of seating flexibility, the Niro’s rear bench splits in a traditional 60/40 ratio and only the range-topping 4 models benefit from a reclining function. On the plus side, the boot load lip is tiny when the adjustable boot floor is in its highest position, making it easier to lift heavy items in and out. The rear seats lie virtually flat when folded down, which is great if you’re trying to slide in long objects.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
The Kia Niro’s pricing undercuts the Toyota C-HR by a reasonable amount, but it’s a little more expensive than some equivalent versions of conventionally powered family SUVs, such as the Seat Ateca and Skoda Karoq.
When it comes to fuel economy, the Niro Hybrid’s official figure of 64.2mpg beats the C-HR with the lower-powered 1.8-litre engine. The plug-in hybrid’s official figure of 313.9mpg beats the more powerful Peugeot 3008 Hybrid 225, although you’ll need to keep the battery topped-up before every journey as much as possible.
The PHEV costs quite a bit more to buy outright than the standard hybrid Niro, but it’ll be the better choice for company car drivers. That’s because its lower CO2 emissions and ability to run for a sustained period of time on electricity places it in a much lower benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bracket.
Only the entry-level 2 version sits in the 8% BIK tax rating, though. Higher-spec 3 and 4 trim levels sit in the 12% rating – which is the same as the similarly-priced Peugeot 3008 Hybrid 225.
As we’ve said, there are cheaper family SUVs out there, but the Niro is one of the best equipped. Entry-level 2 trim includes 16in alloy wheels, dual LED headlights, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, an 8.0in touchscreen and a towing pack.
If your budget allows, we’d suggest moving up to 3 trim to increase that tally to 18in alloy wheels, a 10.3in touchscreen, keyless entry, heated seats and privacy glass (although bear in mind that smaller 16in wheels maximise ride comfort). Range-topping 4 trim adds even more kit, including a large twin-screen infotainment set-up, ventilated front seats and heated outer rear seats, but it’s ever-so expensive.
The second-generation Niro is too new to have featured in our 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey but Kia as a brand finished ninth out of 30th manufacturers. That’s above Tesla (15th) and Volkswagen (20th) but well below Hyundai (in joint third with Suzuki). Every Niro gets Kia’s seven-year or 100,000-mile warranty, which beats most rival manufacturers' cover.
The original Niro was given the full five stars for safety by Euro NCAP in 2016, helped by a standard safety kit that included automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane-keeping assistance. This second-generation model had not been tested at the time of writing, but has a more advanced AEB system that can detect pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars.
Range-topping 4 models have more safety aids. They include a parking collision avoidance assistant (PCA) that stops you opening your door into the path of an approaching vehicle or pedestrian, and a function that warns you when a vehicle approaches from the left or right as you travel straight across a junction.
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The latest Kia Niro didn’t feature in our 2021 What Car? Reliability Survey. However, Kia came a respectable ninth out of 30 car makers in our overall brand rankings for cars up to five years old. That’s ahead of BMW, Volkswagen and Volvo, but behind Toyota and Mazda.Read more here
The Kia Niro is available as a fully electric car (the Kia e-Niro), a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and a hybrid so there should be a version that suits everyone, and it is potentially a very cheap company car choice. The PHEV and hybrid cars combine a 1.6-litre GDi petrol engine with an electric motor. As well as the e-Niro, the Kia range of electric cars includes the What Car? Car of the Year winning Kia EV6 and the Kia Soul EV.Read more here
Our pick is the 1.6 GDI hybrid powertrain, which delivers impressive efficiency, most notably in town, and adequate (if not blistering) pace that’s good enough for everyday use but unlikely to blow your socks off. We recommend trim level 3 for the best balance of kit and value. It adds a full leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, eight-way electrically adjustable heated front seats, wireless phone-charging, front parking sensors and a larger 10.25in infotainment screen with built in sat-nav. Read more here
Our view is that the 3 trim offers the best balance of essential kit and value for money. If you fancy more toys and nice touches then 4 adds a Harman Kardon stereo, panoramic roof, wireless phone-charging, a 360-degree parking camera, a blind-spot monitor and adaptive headlights. Those intent on packing their Sportage with kit could also consider the GT Line and GT Line S trims, although in our estimation they push the price too high for the benefits they offer. Read more here
Entry-level 2 trim has a functional 8.0in touchscreen, whereas 3 upwards gets a far more impressive 10.25in system with built-in sat-nav and Kia’s Connected services function, which provides latest traffic updates and speed camera warnings. The higher grade screen is extremely usable, if a bit short of visual flair. A DAB radio, Bluetooth, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available as standard. Read more here
The Kia Niro has an adequate boot but it is notably smaller than that of rivals, including the Nissan Qashqai, Skoda Karoq and even – if you’re prepared to swap SUV looks for an estate – the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports. Space is not consistent, either: the electric e-Niro offers the biggest boot, followed by the hybrid. The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model has the least space because the bigger battery is mounted under the boot floor, eating into the available space. Read more here
|RRP price range||£30,045 - £42,295|
|Number of trims (see all)||3|
|Number of engines (see all)||2|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||hybrid, electric|
|MPG range across all versions||61.4 - 64.2|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||7 years / 100000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£74 / £1,741|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£149 / £3,482|